Starring: Romain Duris, Niels Arestrup, Linh-Dan Pham, Aure Atika, Emmanuelle Devos, Jonathan Zaccai, Gilles Cohen
Reviewed by Clement von Franckenstein
Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 5.5
Jacques Audiard’s last film was Read My Lips and served notice that here was a young director of immense talent. His follow up film is a rare and dazzling remake of an American film, in this case Fingers made in 1978 by James Toback, starring Harvey Keitel as a Mafia hit man who aspires to be a classical pianist.
Audiard has wisely changed the focus of the film away from the violence (although there are some key scenes that incorporate it) and gives his audience three ongoing stories of his protagonist Tom, brilliantly played by Romain Duris (L’auberge Espagnole), a 28 year old who is torn between loyalty to his father’s gangster way of life, whilst carrying on an illicit affair with the wife of one of his partners, and studying to become a classical pianist with a beautiful Vietnamese teacher (Linh-Dan Pham).
Tom is involved in the "slum-landlord” intimidation business, with two crooked violent partners, who evict innocent people by force from their apartments so they can sell the buildings at inflated prices. He acts as an alibi for one of them who is a serial cheater on his wife. Eventually Tom seduces the wife, well played by Emmanuelle Devos, while at the same time trying to get back the money his father (Niels Arestrup) a career gangster, lost in a crooked deal with a young psychopathic Russian mobster.
Eventually Tom ends up fucking the Russian’s mistress, but cannot succeed in his mission. Later his father is murdered by the man who stole from him, and this is a turning point in Tom’s life. He studies the piano more furiously as he is intent on passing the audition into the famed Parisian Academy. The night before he is due to play, he is "press-ganged” by his partners into kicking out some squatters from a building they are about to "sell.” His sleep and soul shattered, he dries up at the keyboard the following morning and leaves in disgust and self-loathing.
We then cut to two years later. Tom is a changed man. He now manages the career of his former teacher, who one presumes has now become his wife or girlfriend. After dropping her off to play at an important recital, and whilst parking his BMW, he spies "Malkov” his father’s Russian nemesis. Following Malkov into a building, he attacks him in the men’s room. A vicious fight ensues, with Tom finally tearing off the genitals of his adversary and leaving him unconscious.
He actually puts the Russian’s own gun into his mouth, but cannot bring himself to kill him, figuring I guess that as he has manually disemboweled him, he will not, at least physically, be able to "screw” anyone again!
Audiard gives his film a wonderful, gritty, film noir look, and the whole cast is superb. Romain Duris has the talent and looks of an uglier and tougher young Alain Delon in his prime, and this movie should definitely make him a star.
Mention should also be made of the beautiful Linh-Dan Pham, who speaks only a spattering of English, but is a magnificent actress. There is one priceless scene, where Tom vents his artistic frustration at the key-board in a torrent of French, and she gives back as good as she gets in a veritable deluge of Vietnamese, forcing him back to work!
This is an outstanding piece of work, which somehow combines the genres of film noir thriller and romance into a heady brew of cinematic artistry, and is by far the best film I have seen this year.